Numerals and neural reuse

Synthese 197 (9):3657-3681 (2020)
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Menary OpenMIND, MIND Group, Frankfurt am Main, 2015) has argued that the development of our capacities for mathematical cognition can be explained in terms of enculturation. Our ancient systems for perceptually estimating numerical quantities are augmented and transformed by interacting with a culturally-enriched environment that provides scaffolds for the acquisition of cognitive practices, leading to the development of a discrete number system for representing number precisely. Numerals and the practices associated with numeral systems play a significant role in this process. However, the details of the relationship between the ancient number system and the discrete number system remain unclear. This lack of clarity is exacerbated by the problem of symbolic estrangement and the fact that unique features of how numeral systems represent require our ancient number system to play a dual role. These issues highlight that Dehaene’s From monkey brain to human brain, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 133–157, 2005) neuronal recycling hypothesis may be insufficient to explain the neural mechanisms underlying the process of enculturation. In order to explain mathematical enculturation, and enculturation more generally, it may be necessary to adopt Anderson’s :245–266, 2010; After phrenology: neural reuse and the interactive brain, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2014) theory of neural reuse.



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